A few hundred people showed up on Monday night to a Charleston County planning meeting to help choose the ideal fix for traffic at Highway 17 and Main Road in West Ashley. The high turnout comes as no surprise.
That intersection — one of only two ways onto and off of Johns Island — is easily one of the most dysfunctional in the Charleston metro area. An upgrade should have been in the works years ago.
Indeed, it might have taken a higher priority had county officials not wasted so many years and so much hot air trying to get the rest of I-526 built across James and Johns islands.
That much more expensive and much less certain project isn’t likely to have nearly as transformative an effect on Johns Island traffic congestion as a fix at Main Road and Highway 17 or finishing the half-completed pitchfork that would better disperse traffic at the other island entry point on Maybank Highway.
It’s concerning that County Council has committed at least $330 million from the same pot of money to I-526 instead of to the other projects — like the Main Road improvements — that voters thought they were agreeing to pay for in 2016 when they approved a half-cent transportation sales tax.
But it’s encouraging that the county is finally getting around to upgrading Main Road and Highway 17, and residents of Johns Island should keep up the pressure to make sure that the process moves as smoothly and quickly as is reasonable.
As of Monday’s meeting, seven different options were up for consideration ranging from flyovers to cloverleafs to a new section of elevated roadway over the marsh.
The goal is to eliminate the need for a signalized turn onto and off of Highway 17 and let people get directly from Main Road to Bees Ferry Road. All of the options would more or less meet that objective, although there are a few other concerns to address.
For one thing, the intersection is near the marsh, which makes it important to avoid damaging as much of that sensitive ecosystem as possible.
It’s also very close to the West Ashley Greenway, an off-street bike and pedestrian trail that runs almost all the way to downtown Charleston, so any upgrades to the intersection should be able to accommodate bicyclists.
And there’s not any CARTA service on Johns Island, but as the population there grows it may make sense to expand public transportation to the island. Future bus facilities ought to be a consideration.
Ideally, upgrades would also help address flooding problems on Main Road, which can become impassable during unusually heavy rains and high tides.
Those interested in the project can find more information about the proposed plans and leave comments at www.mainroadcorridor.com.
For residents of Johns Island and people who travel Highway 17 near Main Road on a regular basis, a solution to longstanding traffic problems can’t come quickly enough. This is more than a chance to move cars around more quickly, however. It’s a chance to improve the quality of life.